Residents grateful for a “normal” holiday season
THOUGH THE CITY OF MAYFIELD continues to recover from last year’s December 10 tornado, its Christmas spirit has returned in full force.
Nearly a year after the historic EF4 tornado cut a deadly path through western Kentucky, the resiliency of the region and its people shines brighter than ever. This December, Mayfield residents are reflecting on the past year’s challenges, celebrating their triumphs and ringing in the holiday season with commemorative ceremonies, drive-thru light displays and other family-friendly fun.
A Celebration of Hope
Even as some Mayfield residents still struggle to get back into homes and businesses continue rebuilding, there is something the tornado didn’t take away from the town: hope.
“We have a long way to go, but we are certainly much farther along that path than we were in January of this year,” says Mayfield Mayor Kathy O’Nan.
In fact, there is some semblance of normalcy this December, like holiday open houses at local shops and the annual Christmas parade, though it won’t follow the usual route around the tornado-pounded courthouse square.
In the midst of the seasonal hustle and bustle, the community will pause for A Celebration of Hope at 2:30 p.m. on the first anniversary of the December 10 disaster. This will be a time to remember the lives lost, to honor the first responders and to look forward to the future with hope. For a community still healing, it will be a time of reflection as well as celebration.
“No one here had a normal Christmas last year,” says O’Nan. “I hope then, following the 10th, we can go back to as normal a Christmas as we can have, since last year certainly was not.”
The commemoration continues in the evening with an event set in motion by Ellie Swift, a Graves County High School sophomore and vice president of its Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA). Implementing a DECA competition project, Swift and fellow club members Krystina Kelly and Joselyn Leonard are planning a tree lighting ceremony at Cartwright Grove in Mayfield to honor those affected by last year’s tornado.
“Instead of it being one big tree, we plan on doing multiple small trees,” explains Swift, whose family are Jackson Purchase Energy consumer-members. Proceeds from local sponsors will benefit the tornado victims.
While the tree lighting ceremony will be another opportunity to reflect on Mayfield’s struggles in the tornado’s aftermath, for Swift, it also represents a new beginning.
“We want people to be able to say, ‘Hey, we lived through this tornado, but we’re overcoming it,’” Swift says. “We’re going to move past it, and we’re going to be even stronger as a community than we were before.”
Festival of Lights and more
Mayfield’s annual Festival of Lights continues this year, featuring 10 supersize greeting cards, plus 106 holiday scenes.
The light display, sponsored by FNB Bank and area businesses, grows every year, and this year, seven new scenes have been added. Mayfield-Graves County Tourism Commission Executive Director Jennifer Walker jokes that her favorite scene changes each year, but if she had to choose just one, it’s the entrance. “I think my favorite is the opening one—it’s just a beautiful arch that says, ‘Welcome to the FNB Festival of Lights,’” says Walker, a West Kentucky RECC consumer-member. “And then you drive through and see a little bit of everything.”
Other seasonal activities around town this month include Walk Through Bethlehem, an immersive experience at Mayfield First Church of the Nazarene. Also, The Purchase Players are presenting The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
“We’re so excited about these events,” says Walker. “All of these events, every one of them, was impacted by the tornado. And every one of them has worked as hard as they could work in order to provide the same events this year.”
More than ever, she adds, Mayfield has a special appreciation for the holiday season, and its residents want to share that with visitors.
At the end of the displays for Festival of Lights is Cartwright Grove, an 1880s Old West town, featuring 15 buildings with era furnishings, including a general store, stables and a schoolhouse. The town is decked out for the holidays, and kids can visit with Santa and warm up by the campfire with a snack as the sounds of live music dance in the air.
“We are a family-oriented place for families to come and get together and step back in time to enjoy some outdoor activities with their families,” says Jill Kirby, Cartwright Grove coordinator and overseer, along with her husband, Hugh, who designed and constructed all the buildings with the help of volunteers. Jill and Hugh, lifelong Mayfield residents, are West Kentucky RECC consumer-members, where their son, Russ, is a lineworker. Jill says Cartwright Grove is a way for the couple to give back to their town and help preserve local history.
Since 2016, families have made a visit to Cartwright Grove part of their annual Christmas tradition, a tradition many can’t wait to return to after last year’s devastating tornado.
“We are looking forward to being back to normal, opening the doors, and people coming in and having a happy holiday season at Cartwright Grove,” says Jill.
AMY COBB, a freelance writer and member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, enjoys writing fiction and nonfiction for children and adults.